TheLiberty is a local paper for Dublin's south inner city

February 2001

A nose for success

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Sueanne O'Leary tries to cultivate some knowledge of fine wines
My brief was to attend a wine appreciation course for the evening. So there it was, the perfect opportunity to cultivate a deeper understanding and greater awareness of this high octane grape juice that has fueled parties and caused chronic hangovers for so many people over the years. How could I refuse?

Perhaps after one class I would learn some of the basics about this popular tipple. Instead of having a mild panic attack while gesturing wildly at some random bottle lurking at the bottom of the wine list (invariably cheap German plonk), every time a wine waiter comes near, I would be able to make informed decisions about my wine.

Yes, I saw myself wowing my friends with my extensive knowledge of specific strains of grape, particularly good vintages and the perils of storing bottles upright. I would enter the stratosphere of wine connoisseurship in just one night.

Ok, so my imagination was getting the better of me, but I was looking forward to discovering just what this wine appreciation lark was all about. I did have some reservations however since wine has continuously been the subject of considerable snobbery and elitism. Thankfully though I encountered not a whiff of snootiness when I went along to Margo Kelly's wine appreciation course in the Liberties College on a Wednesday night.

This is the second time Margo has run a wine appreciation course in the college and she is happy to see that some of her former pupils have returned. I was the new kid on the block though, and I have to say I was glad of Margo's down to earth approach when it came to explaining the finer points of Cabernet Sauvignon.

Margo's lecture was lively and humorous with plenty of interaction from the group, but I sensed everyone was anticipating the wine tasting which was to follow. Even Margo herself quipped "We don't want to eat into drinking time".

When it came to the tasting process I made a rash decision and declined the opportunity to partake in the swirl, sniff, sip and spit ritual. All the others were quite keen to begin however and with six bottles of wine to get through I didn't blame them.

Each of the wines was carefully considered by the group and every glass was subjected to intense criticism, while I sat back and listened to the banter among the group and tried to politely avert my gaze when the time came to spit into the buckets provided. Some members of the group took a "waste not, want not" approach and were quite content to swallow the wines on occasion. Of course it is advised to spit out the wines you taste if you want to find your way home.

After some scrutiny and analysis by the group, I discovered that the smells you can get from red wine could vary considerably from blackcurrants to mint, leather to vanilla and roasted green peppers. One person even thought her wine smelt of the sea. All this from a few grapes I thought?

Bizarre as it may sound it seems some wine can indeed smell a bit like "when you go to Galway and you get that first smell of the sea".

As the night drew to a close I realised that wine doesn't have to be shrouded in mysticism. It can be a complex area but at the end of the day it's really a personal thing. One person may think that a bottle of a 1998 Chilean red is utterly delectable to the palate while another may find they can't wean themselves off a bottle of Blossom Hill's finest. You can be your own wine expert by simply picking up a glass and taking a few seconds to actually assess it. Margo herself was a complete wine novice up to ten years ago and thought every wine tasted like vinegar, but she gradually developed a taste for it and now it seems there's nothing this woman doesn't know about this much-loved beverage. She admits that there is a huge amount of snobbery associated with wine, but hastens to add that wine has become more accessible to the general public with the availability of good quality wines at reasonable prices.

I was interested to see why exactly people felt the need to attend a wine appreciation course, so, after a quick whip around the room the response was unanimous. People simply wanted to find out more about wine so they could be more confident when choosing wines and could make more informed decisions when dining out. It was then that I discovered I was not alone, other people had the fear too. Margo was our shining light in the abyss that is the wine list. After just two and a half hours though I was feeling ambitious, and ready to go out there and impress the world with all the information I had gleaned from Margo.

Wine waiters everywhere watch out.